First they closed the athletic fields…

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This communiqué is about how sometimes the same message can be misinterpreted and/or perceived based on the sole premise of who the messenger may be. Just a few days ago it hit me hard, really hard that Schenley High, (alma mater God preserve thee) was really gone. I guess, no, I know that I have been in denial because I could not nor will I ever be able to comprehend why one of the foundations of urban education not only in Pittsburgh but in America was deliberately, unceremoniously and frivolously snatched away from future generations of potential students because of the nature of the political powers that be. There are a few reasons that I am concerned not only by the lack of leadership of the Pittsburgh School Board but by quality of these “stewards” of education.

“This whole area, [Western Pennsylvania] years ago, was really redneck.” All right folks this was not a partial and misunderstood quote by the one and only Reverend Jeremiah Wright, the “man of the cloth” who almost declawed and removed all of the teeth from President Barack Obama’s first election. This caustic quote was from an experienced and learned legislator, the late Congressman John Murtha who hailed from and represented the area known by some as the “Confederacy” sitting just north of the Mason-Dixon Line. Schenley was a high school that for many years excelled both academically and athletically; well at least until some school board folks allegedly decided that mesothelioma might be in the near future of students, faculty and the general public if habitation at this potentially infected property was continued.

Redneck alert…Now I am not promoting this definition of our beloved and sanctified region, but the words of the late congressman were a sorta kinda motivating force for me. When folks come in and gut a school system like a fattened calf after slaughter, it should leave everyone, parents, teachers and the community-at-large in a very “inquisitive” state of mind.

Now closing our schools makes a lot of dough for other segments of our society. According to saveourschoolsmarch.org “The average per-pupil cost in Pennsylvania’s urban schools is $8,985; Pennsylvania’s average per-prisoner cost: $31,900.”

How many uniforms and pairs of cleats could be purchased if the funding mechanism was reversed? Could some of the funds dispensed to insure the comfort of those who may be incarcerated be utilized to build better schools and to renovate the antiquated ones and the athletic facilities within? 

This seems to be a far better option than keeping a fresh coat of paint on the cells waiting for student/athletes after they drop out of school or are expelled from athletics because they fail to meet the minimum G.P.A requirements.

When ex-Pittsburgh Board of Education Superintendant John Thompson (an African-American) offered balanced proposals in regards to closing schools in various neighborhoods, not just in Black neighborhoods he was driven out of town post, haste. When Mr. Thompson’s successor Mark Roosevelt rode into Pittsburgh at the crack of dusk on his horse “midnight” not wielding a scalpel but a hatchet, he made the students, parents and citizens of Pittsburgh appear as if they were in a hatchet fight and everyone had a tomahawk but them.

On March 11, 2012 Eleanor Chute of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette wrote, “Without a scorecard, it was nearly impossible for an outsider to tell apart the students from Pittsburgh Perry and Pittsburgh Oliver—two North Side high schools separated by just 2-1/2 miles. Seated around a group of tables in the Perry library, 18 students met to talk about the transition this fall [the fall of 2012] when they will all be from one school: Perry. In an effort to save money and offer more classes, Pittsburgh Public Schools is closing Oliver High School, built in 1924, and assigning the students to Perry, which was built in 1901. Oliver received an addition in 1987 and Perry in 1992. Oliver is among seven city public schools being closed this fall.” Listen everyone, competition builds character, character builds self-esteem and self-esteem builds excellence.

The juiced up pep rallies that used to be the highlight of the student-athletes week as Perry prepared to face arch rival Oliver or as Schenley readied it’s troops to face Peabody are no more. First they came for the athletic fields and closed them. Then they came for the schools and closed them.

Athletics in high schools are often the only shining star at the end of the bleak pitch black tunnel otherwise known as urban education. As most of you who read my weekly “opinions” well know, I dedicate a couple thousand words per year to this very subject and as long as God gives me strength I will stand up and sit up for those who society perceives have no voice; but I will certainly never stand by nor shut up in regards to the Pittsburgh Public Schools and the athletic programs that have been at the heart and soul of their existence. I will never watch these events with indifference as calloused and corrupt “bean counters” dilute and devalue one of the few positive components that inner city youth have to look forward to as some of them leave dysfunctional homes ducking gunfire, drugs and God only knows what just to get to school. See folks oftentimes it is not the message, it is the messenger.

Many young student­-athletes feel that sports and or music is their only way out of the “hood” and when those options are removed without opposition; the budgetary allocations to build more jail cells become a bit more feasible. The Pittsburgh Promise will be very easy to keep because just over 50 percent of the Pittsburgh district schools remain open. It is easier to promise four children $100 per week for their allowance than being committed to passing out a “C-note” to 40 kids? See ya later, alligators…

(Aubrey Bruce can be reached at: abruce@newpittsburghcourier.com or 412-583-6741.)

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